Music

The Book on Mormons

A brilliant new musical from the creators of South Park both mocks and admires religion.

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South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone have conspired with Avenue Q lyricist Robert Lopez to create The Book of Mormon, an outrageously rude, irreverent, yet big-hearted Broadway musical. The show relentlessly satirizes Mormon doctrines about gays, blacks, coffee, golden plates buried in ancient upstate New York, and God's home on the planet Kolob. But it also advances the notion that religious belief can enable people to behave better toward others. Stone has called the play "an atheist love letter to religion." That's a pretty accurate summation.

The wonderfully blasphemous show centers on the hapless activities and confabulations of two 19-year- old Mormon missionaries. Young Mormon men called "elders," wearing the familiar uniform of white shirt and black necktie, generally spend two years riding bikes and ringing doorbells as missionaries for the faith. The musical opens when Elder Price—a nearly perfect example of white-bread Mormon manhood, and he knows it—is paired with schlubby sci-fi geek and pathological liar Elder Cunningham.

The mismatched duo arrives in warlord-infested, AIDS-plagued, dirt-poor Uganda, where gun-toting thugs immediately rob them of their luggage. The elders stumble into a miserable village, where they complain about being assaulted. Mafala Hatimbi, the leader of the downtrodden villagers, cheerfully explains that when things go bad, as they always do, the villagers sing "Hasa Diga Eebowai." The song is one of several homages to other Broadway numbers—in this case "Hakuna Matata" (Swahili for "There Are No Worries") from The Lion King.

Drawn in by the infectiously upbeat music, the elders soon join the African ensemble in the exuberant song and dance number. Eventually the elders ask Hatimbi what the phrase means. Dancing with his middle digit extended high in the air, the village headman explains that it's telling God to screw himself. The song continues: "Here's the butcher. He has AIDS. Here's the doctor. He has AIDS. Here's my daughter. She has…a lovely personality. But if you touch her, I'll give you my AIDS!"

Thus the elders meet the lovely Nabulungi, who becomes the focus of their proselytizing. Inspired by a vision of the Mormon hometown, Nabulungi sings a charming ballad reminiscent of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" about her longing for the peaceful paradise of…Salt Lake City. And it's no wonder she longs for Utah, because the village is menaced by an evil warlord with a name (like much in the performance) not intended for delicate ears, who believes that "the clitoris is evil."  The general declares he will destroy the village unless all women are genitally mutilated.

Price and Cunningham hook up with a band of elders who are also marooned in Uganda. Despite the fact that the villagers continue to resist conversion, Price affirms his faith, belting out the anthem "I Believe." The number highlights various Mormon tenets, including the ideas that ancient Jews sailed to America, that Jesus preached there, and that in 1978 "God changed his mind about black people." Price's partner, Cunningham, has less of a grasp on Mormon theology. We learn that he has never actually read The Book of Mormon ("too boring"). When he tries to make his religion relevant to the villagers' woes, he weaves together stories about Joseph Smith, Frodo, Jesus, a frog, and the starship Enterprise, all addressing rural African scourges like violence, diarrhea, and AIDS.

There's much more to the story and much more to the music, which in addition to sending up The Lion King includes takeoffs of A Chorus Line, The Wizard of Oz, South Pacific, and Little Shop of Horrors. The show features some of the same surreal flourishes that Parker and Stone bring to South Park. The chorus number "Spooky Mormon Hell Dream," for example, features Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Genghis Khan, and Johnnie Cochran as demons, accompanied by two dancing giant cups of Starbucks coffee and some glazed donuts. And as in South Park, the rude exterior masks a sweet core. The show may mercilessly mock Mormonism, but it ultimately takes a kind view of the religion. When villagers convert to the church's views, or to the half-baked version of those views that Cunningham cooks up, the results are rather benign.

The official reaction to the musical from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has been surprisingly muted. "The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening," it said in a statement, "but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people's lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ." Its creators probably would not much disagree with that sentiment. As Stone told Slate, "At the end of the day, if the mass delusion of a religion makes you happy, makes your family work better, is that bad or good?" 

Ronald Bailey (rbailey@reason.com) is reason's science correspondent.

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  1. Taking on the Mormons is a bold move. I have to say.

    1. What are they going to do?
      Polygamize them to death?

      1. Vicariously baptize them.

      2. Nice them to heck and back is more like it.

    2. I wish someone would have told us that.

      1. ha, nice try, anti-mormon!

      2. Maybe if you hadn’t spent 500 miles bragging about how you had killed Joseph Smith and run the Mormons out of Missouri, you would have had a better time of it.

    3. Are you kidding? That’s like saying it’s bold to take on dryer lint.

      1. Nobody gets sarcasm.

        1. I think that was a bit dry for text only sarcasm.

    4. Are you kidding? That’s like saying it’s bold to take on dryer lint.

  2. I am waiting for the light hearted fun filled musical poking fun at the Koran.

    1. While I’m sure Stone and Parker would be more than happy to write such a musical, you might have difficulty finding a producer and a theater willing to back it.

    2. They have written South Park episodes mocking Islam, but Comedy Central didn’t have the balls to air them.

      1. and to this day, it’s the only south park episode that has never shown up on http://www.southparkstudios.com

        1. Where all media is provided for streaming by Comedy Central/MTV/Viacom. They risk being sued into oblivion if they air it.

          Such a tragedy, 200-201 are great episodes.

    3. I am waiting to see if American newspapers refuse to cover this play or run its ads. Don’t want to spread anti-Mormon hatred, do we?

      1. why would you want to spread any hatred?

    4. You mean the multiple episodes of South Park where they mention Mohammed, but Comedy Central censors them?

      1. What about the one where he who shall not be named was a member of the Super Best Friends, with the power of fire?

        1. I believe that the Mohamed from that episode was also featured in the opening for the show for a year or two. Which makes me thing that a lot of the outrage over Mohamed cartoons and such is ginned up. “Astroturfing” if you will.

    5. Exactly. It would been “outrageous” and “irreverent” if they called The Koran.

    6. I’d be your angel but I’m only in the position to be a pelagic subscriber

      love and fishes
      Osama

    7. Mohamed and Joseph Smith are pretty similar in many ways.

  3. Is this also a love letter to ignorant aids infected immoral africans?

    1. I’m curious, Tim: did you think that quip was clever or funny?

      -jcr

      1. Both. The play portrays africans as ignorant, aids infected and immoral, also violent. Which is apparently getting a pass from the review. I’m pointing that out because I think it does a diservice, to put it mildly, to africans that actually lead normal lives.

        1. To put it another way, by calling it a “love letter to religion” one attempts to placate the religious people who are insulted by the high content of what Bailey calls ” The wonderfully blasphemous show “.
          I doubt Mr. Bailey would pen a line like “The wonderfully racist show pays backhanded tribute to AK-47 wielding, thieving, ignorant and diseased africans.”

          I hope you see my point.

          1. ANd in fairness to Mr. Bailey-who has seen the show and I haven’t. It may be that the play isn’t a collection of derogatory stereotypes about africans. Reading this review and others, I get the impression that it is. Feel free to straighten me out on that.
            Everybody’s gleeful about how those squares the Mormons will react-did anybody stop to consider how africans would?
            Should we mention that religion and religious practice in Africa is stronger than in Europe?

            1. Not everyone has travelled outside the US

              1. Nor should they.

                1. butt they kneed sum educatating

            2. “Everybody’s gleeful about how those squares the Mormons will react-did anybody stop to consider how africans would?”

              Shit’s gonna hit the fan when those poor african villagers travel to Broadway for a show. Gimme a break. Why obsess about something that will not happen? Any african privileged enough to travel to NYC will view poor africans with more contempt than any American would.

          2. Africans ARE violent, ignorant, immoral and AIDS-infected. What’s your point? Are you suggesting that we should ignore reality in the name of political correctness? Perhaps you don’t realize that Reason is a libertarian site favoring free minds and not a left-wing pc fascist site.

            1. Please tell me you’re not that stupid

              1. How about if I just inform you that you are an ignorant POS? Then again, you obviously prefer to remain ignorant and insulated from reality so why should I bother?

            2. You will find some Africans who are violent and immoral, just as you will find Americans who are immoral. They probably occur in similar percentages.

              Being a 3rd world country with limited health resources, Uganda does indeed have a higher prevalence of HIV and a lesser degree of formal schooling. The group I will be working with next month in SW Uganda has an average life expectancy of 29. This does not make them violent or immoral. In fact, for a people where the yearly salary is about $25, they are amazingly welcoming and have a cool culture.

              You are buying into a stereotype that your free mind should be educating itself about rather than parroting.

              1. yes, yes it does

              2. You just made my point for me. I didn’t state that ALL Africans are violent, ignorant, immoral and AIDS-infected. Unfortunately, violence, ignorance, immorality and AIDS are all more prevalent in African society than in American society. So it’s ignorant to suggest I was stereotyping them. It is also idiotic to suggest that we must ignore reality in order to avoid offending someone.

  4. I remember when I was in high school, having a chat with the mother of a friend of mine, and having her tell me that the mormon church practiced segregation because god told them to, but nobody in the church really wanted it that way, and they were all so happy when “God changed his mind about black people.”

    That’s when I decided that she was simply out of her mind. It wasn’t until several years later that I learned that she was just giving the party line.

    -jcr

    1. I hike & climb every summer in Utah’s Wasatch Front and found the Mormons to be very friendly and decent folk –however, my non-Mormon Utah buddies told me that that’s how everyone thinks initially and, once you get to know them, discover them to be true SOB’s.

      1. Which is really silly, because they’re probably just as bad as the Utah Mormons. It’s probably the de facto theocracy in that state which bothers them more than anything about the population itself.

      2. I think you can say that about a lot of groups. The more I get to know people, the more I like my dog.

        1. The more I get to know you, the more I like your dog too. :-p

          1. I love dogs.

      3. My experience as a former Mormon is that they are only SOBs at the ballot box. The rest of the time they are relentlessly, obnoxious nice.

  5. Mormonism is biblical fanfic.

    1. It’s one of the better examples of Mary Sue fanfic i can think of.

  6. When I saw this a couple weeks ago, I really liked their song, Salt Lake City, Fuck Yeah!. The line about “Karl Malone and Kevin Eaton are gay, but that’s OK” was LOL funny. I wonder why they left out John Stockton though.

    1. Mark Eaton I believe. That dude was huge, he was like a mechanic or something when he started playing basketball

  7. Supposedly, this thing is poised to mop up the Tonys this year, but they are having trouble finding a song that they can broadcast as part of the awards show.

  8. Having seen the musical two weeks ago, it is very similar in theme and message to their South Park episode that specifically dealt with an LDS family moving to town. It is unabashedly profane and delightful yet manages a back handed compliment to religion by the end. So to anyone who wondered if there would ever be music to the line “fuck you god”, we have an answer and the world is a better place for it.

    1. music to the line “fuck you god”

      Type O Negative already did it years ago.

      1. Type O Negative seriously?

        I know they are a bunch of posing bed wetters, that pretend to be hardcore, but maybe they can put on some diapers and real effort into it?

        Countless bands have already killed god over and over for decades now, merely fucking the corpse at this point is rather candy ass.

  9. I can’t believe this thread has 19 comments in it already and Shriek hasn’t weighed in with his usual eye-bulging, vein-popping tirade on anything that smacks of religion.

    1. Jeffersonian don’t encourage him, he’ll just drool alot more. LOL!

  10. What a gutsy show.

    And it makes a nice change from the hackneyed tropes of mocking Muslims and liberals.

    1. mocking Muslims and liberals … ha! that never gets old

    2. Well, if it were a typical PC type play, there’d be no compliment paid to Mormonism.

      Plus, it’s a little unfair to assume Trey and Parker are the typical Hollywood sort – as far as I can tell, they’re the only pair of writers on Comedy Central who actually DO try to make fun of Muslims (See the South Park episode Cartoon Wars) and liberals (like….half of them. The one where Kentucky Fried Chicken and trans-fats are banned, etc. etc.)

  11. Here’s my bone with Mormonism:
    If God gave golden plates and the ability to decipher the markings on them to a person and then ordered him to translate them, wouldn’t He want them translated into the current version of the language?

    The book of Mormon reads as if it were written in a style that at best imperfectly mimics the English of the 1610 King James Bible. If God wanted it written in an English that was over 200 years old, why didn’t He give Joesph Smith the ability to write perfectly in that language.

    Smith also translated ancient hieroglyphs that at the time were not understood by linguists. With the subsequent finding of the Rosetta Stone, we now know what those hieroglyphs actually say and that Smith was a liar and a con-artist.

    Many things in the Bible that were once thought improbable (like the existance of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the existance of King David) have been born out by archeology. Not one item has been found by Mormon archeologists (and they are looking very hard) to verify the ancient North American civilization described in The book of Mormon.

    1. A religion based on made up stories?
      Never!

      This is one reason why I have a hard time with the concept of religious faith. Why would you believe one set of made up stories over another?

      1. Talk to someone who has died, and been revived. I’ve met two.

        1. The same experiences have been reported by people being put through high-speed centrifuges. I wonder how many of them came out of the test chamber having had an epiphany.

          (Also, if you were revived, you weren’t really “dead”, were you?)

          1. Yeah modern science has discovered everything there is to know in the universe. All knowledge we have now. Yeah right. Science will never discover or know everything, even scientists themselves say that so come off your Atheist high horse. Maybe your right, maybe there is no God or no afterlife but you won’t know until you die will you?

          2. if your heart stops you are “dead” right? at least for a moment.

      2. Religion is inherently not discernible from a rational point of view. That is why faith requires, well, faith.

        Although, I always find it entertaining when folks try to reconcile biblical teachings with the scientific data. I had a fellow student attempt to do this in a speech class. He attempted to reconcile the creation story from the book of Genesis with cosmological and geologic data regarding the age of the universe and earth. The stupid was staggering. Days were measured in millions of years, it was many moons ago, but I think he managed to throw Relativity and time dilation in there to. I face-palmed through the whole thing.

        1. That should be a “too” there at the end.

          1. 2

        2. i can’t recall if it was matt or trey but they aren’t hostile to the idea of *a* god. when asked about the absurdity of religion, the answer he gave was “the only thing more absurd than believing in a god, is not believing in one, iow all this stuff just happened”

      3. “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
        Stephen Roberts

    2. NoStar:”The book of Mormon reads as if it were written in a style that at best imperfectly mimics the English of the 1610 King James Bible.”

      That’s because parts of it ARE the 1610 King James Bible. There are bits that are indeed ripped straight from the KJV, complete with the scholastic errors the KJV is known for.

    3. One explanation for why the wording is in the style of the King James version is that was the way people expected to see Holy Words was in that format.

      Wm. Shakespeare’s writing is also in the 1600’s wording but does not feel like Holy Words. So if you were going to translate the Word of G-d in the 1800’s it would be expected to sound and read like the accepted Word of G-d found in the Holy Bible (KJV). Anything in the common usage would be seen as rude or even blasphemous.

      Keep in mind that Smith did more than just translate the BoM, he also recorded other revelations in what is called the D&C today that read more modern with some formalized “thous” and “thus saith” in them.

      As for the “north america” thing, I’ve always been told it was south/central america where the BoM took place till the end. (not counting the part that took place at the tower of Babel)

    4. They found Nahom in Yemen. Right location, right time-period as described in the Book of Mormon. Oh, and they also found evidence of pre-columbian chickens in Mesoamerica, which the Book of Mormon mentions. Lucky guesses by Joseph Smith.

  12. “Many things in the Bible that were once thought improbable (like the existance of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the existance of King David) have been born out by archeology. Not one item has been found by Mormon archeologists (and they are looking very hard) to verify the ancient North American civilization described in The book of Mormon.”

    From the little I know about mormonism there is little to nothing that makes it any more fantastical than what can be found in any version of the old testament.

    To put it another way, there is nothing about the Bible that makes it any more believable (Think Noah and his really really big ship full of animals) than the Book of Mormon other than the fact that it’s really old.

  13. I hope they bring the show to Salt Lake City one day (yeah, right…..). I’d like to see it, but there is little chance I am going to NYC just so I can.

    (P.S. Yes, I’m Mormon. Yes, I think a lot of people [here] misunderstand a lot of the religion. But, No, I don’t care, because if you can’t learn to laugh at yourself a bit, what’s the point?)

    1. I absolutely love your state, GT!

    2. Actually, Salt Lake City is the most liberal part of Utah, with perhaps half or more of the people living there non-LDS. So a show there might be a money-maker.

      1. Small quibble: Park City is more liberal, but hey whatever argument it takes a showing in SLC one day.

    3. It you want to see this show, then I believe you don’t understand your own religion and you don’t know what it means to be Latter-Day-Saint.

  14. Penn Jillette’s review might be more apt. He says it absolutely destroys the religion, but absolutely loves the people. That pretty much seems to be their point.

    He also says it is “The best thing I’ve ever seen.”

    1. Love Penn Jillette. Feel so sad for atheists. I think they mix the messege with the messenger too much. I’m Catholic, and would love to see the pedophile priests and their protectors burned at the stake in public. But I still attend Mass, and still try to follow JC’s teachings.

      1. I missed the part where JC taught us to burn people at the stake.

        And considering that his father (himself) got a 12 year old girl pregnant, and that JC’s beloved disciple was an adolescent boy, I wonder who exactly is pushing for pedophiles to be burned at the stake?

        I don’t know, who could that be? Could it be … SATAN?

        1. Obviously not paying attention in 3rd grade cathechism class…

  15. This play sounds like a riff on a familiar theme of the South Park guys which dates all the way back to their first movie about the Mormon and the porn movie shoot.

    I think one of the guys dated a Mormon chick when he was young and is left with a permanent warm feeling about how pleasant she and her family were and how close the family’s bonds were.

    1. yea, i read a long interview where that was their underlying theme. iow, the mormon mythology may be complete fantasy (like other mythologies), but they are a cohesive, law abiding, productive group of people and that’s a good thing.

  16. I don’t find the Church’s response very surprising. They know that if they condemned it the media would pour even more attention to it and draw even more mocking comments about how hateful the Church is.

    You won’t get demands for boycotts or picketing or calls for censorship. They will just make statements like the one posted and never respond to anti-LDS comments. It is about faith, not proof, that G-d exist. All the BoM is just another source about G-d’s love.

  17. I hereby nominate Parker and Stone for the Kevin Smith “I want to be a good Christian and still say ‘fuck’ three times a minute” Cafeteria Christan award.

  18. I really hope it they will film it and put it on a dvd sometime. Sounds great.

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  20. When Jesus Christ walked the earth, very few believed him and followed him. Eventually, the people killed him. We blame it on the wickedness of the people of that time for not knowing Christ when he came. It does not surprise me that when Jesus Christ restores his church on the earth in our day and calls living prophets that the people don’t believe and don’t recognize him. This is because of the wickedness of our day. It also does not surprise me that a sick demented broadway show that makes fun of religion and God is a great success. Satan could not be any more pleased. Good Job guys.

    1. Good points. People paid a very high price to be Christian in the early days of the church, yet it grew. Love your Father, love each other.

    2. David, my opinion is that in addition to everything you’ve said, there’s a vested interest in mocking Mormons right now because of Mitt Romney.
      There are power brokers out there who feel that funding derogatory media will help discredit him.

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